LinkedIn’s Daily Rundown this weekend discussed how, “uncertainty over the pace of U.S. economic growth has been renewed by sharply, slowing retail sales in December.” The article continues to point out that a recent increase of unemployment claims has impacted sales at restaurant, stores, and online. Add to the pot the volatility of trade tariffs, the fight over President Trump declaring a national emergency at the border, and the U.S. national debt hitting $22 trillion, and you have a recipe for concern, consternation, and, to some degree, chaos.
It’s critical to be informed of the macro realities of our world, but allowing them to dominate our every thought and effort can cause us to relinquish our own agency and fall prey to things that are outside of our control. The key is to be informed about what is transpiring in our world, but not to solely dwell there. (The daily rundown is a great source.)
Where Should You Focus?
The most effective performers put their best energies toward things that they can control, instead of focusing on the uncontrollable. I know; the uncontrollable will frustrate you. You will want to fix it; however, you will find that it is just beyond your grasp. Chasing the uncontrollable will leave you feeling out-of-control.
Instead of focusing on the things you can’t control, focus on what you can influence and watch the needle move!
Allow Me to Illustrate My Point
I offer the following story to support my point. I hope you find it useful and encourage you to share with others who have lost sight of what they can and cannot control.
Many years ago, I was a paratrooper in the Army. Yep, I was paid to jump out of perfectly good airplanes. My first nighttime jump took place at 2 a.m. That night some 1,500 paratroopers jumped from 22 airplanes cruising at 800 feet above swamps and pine trees. Soon after clearing the airplane door I looked down and knew I was in trouble. I could see a dark patch of trees a few hundred feet below me. Way off to the left was a much lighter area – the soft sand of the drop zone. My parachute afforded me little ability to steer or change direction. I braced for the impact – knowing I had no choice but to plow into inevitable danger.
In this situation, I was a prisoner of circumstance. I couldn’t control where the planes flew, when I jumped out the door (the plane’s green light and fellow troops pushing from behind saw to that), or what type of parachute I was using.
Over the past 20+ years, I’ve worked with individuals, teams, and organizations who suggest they too are at the mercy of bad work situations and little or no control of their careers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, we can’t control the economy, natural disasters, or a myriad of other things that shape our world everyday. However, we have far more choices available to us than we typically believe exist if we simply chose to lead ourselves.
If you don’t like the results you are currently achieving, do something about it. If you are disappointed in your team’s performance, take control of the situation and install a process that will allow your team to achieve its top goals. If you are unhappy with your choice of career, don’t settle. Take a positive step in the right direction – today! Time is ticking. Your parachute is much more steerable than you think. Choose to avoid the trees and accomplish what matters most, to you, those you lead, and those you care most about.
Not Sure Where to Start?
Consider these three military-esque steps:
1. Check the map
Unlike my late night parachute experience, you should ensure that you know where you are going to land. Check the map and think about where you want to go – if you don’t know where you want to land, the trees will gobble you up. So, do your homework, consider what’s possible, and set goals for yourself.
2. Inspect your equipment
When you jump from an airplane, you are expected to assess your equipment to ensure everything is functioning properly. In the air, a fully deployed parachute is your best asset. Take time to consider your assets – what are your strengths and how can you leverage them to achieve what matters most?
3. Brace for landing
Things aren’t always going to go well. Sometimes you will land in the trees or hit the ground really hard. The same goes when you are trying to accomplish goals that matter. You can’t avoid every problem, but you can learn from each setback, brush yourself off, and get back on track as quickly as possible.
Oh, by the way, here’s how my parachute jump into the trees turned out…
When I landed in the trees, the area was completely dark. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. My training taught me that I could deploy my reserve parachute and climb down. I decided to go that route, but first I wanted to see how secure I was in the tree. I tugged on my parachute risers and slipped a few inches. I found myself standing safely on the ground. Yep, I was six inches in the air. It was the only jump in the Army where I landed on both feet.
My take away – be willing to take a calculated risk – you might be surprised when you land on your feet.
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.